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News

Service Robots Head to Pandemic’s Frontlines

Asian Robotics Review
30.4.2020

Meet FACO: New Breed of AI-Powered, Multi-Tasking Service Robots

Service Robots Battle Pandemic

We’re hip deep in the Great Virus War of 2020, and any time we can get a service robot to switch out with a human on the front lines, let’s do it! The problem there is that, in the multi-billion-dollar business that is the professional service robotics industry, there are very few service robots that can take on the necessary jobs.

Of course, any help is better than humans stretched to physical and mental exhaustion valiantly performing round-the-clock pandemic duty. The dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs meant for robots are, on the front lines of the Great Virus War, still being performed by humans, at great personal peril to themselves and their families.

To be fair, a few service robots are contributing to the war effort.

The Danes have a mobile, UV disinfection robot that can kill off a roomful of viruses in a flash; the Chinese have robots that autonomously spray disinfectant and others that can assist at gathering patient info. Beijing-based robotics company CloudMinds sent 14 robots to the COVID epicenter of Wuhan to clean and disinfect, deliver medicine to patients and measure patients’ temperatures. Other service robots worldwide do similar jobs.

Unfortunately, none of the existing crop of service robots seem to be more than just adequate, if that. Nice to have around, but certainly nothing remarkable.

What then about a service robot that is mobile, autonomous, can sort the infected from the healthy, is totally impervious to the deadly disease, is AI-enabled and sensor rich enough to examine patients, take thermal temperatures, analyze chest x-rays and 3D CT-scans, tele-connect patients to physicians, and act as a remote, high-def diagnostic probe for medical staff? In short, a service robot that can make a real difference. One that can meaningfully impact the well-being of both patients and healthcare workers alike.

Then get ready to meet FACO, the new face of service robotics (see video).

FACO is an acronym for FIBO

Against COVID, with the acronym FIBO standing for the place where FACO was designed and built: The Field Robotics Institute (FIBO) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, Thailand (KMUTT). FIBO is world famous for its robotics, even more so in Asia. It’s boss, and the impresario of FIBO’s COVID-fighting robots, is Dr. Djitt Laowattana, a brilliantly driven and inspirational roboticist, known as The Father of Thai Robotics.

A sense of Laowattana can be seen in his working tirelessly to quickly round up nearly two dozen contributing sponsors in order to build FACO, and with his generosity in offering the finished COVID-fighter for purchase…at cost! “I prefer not to make profit during this pandemic,” he said in an interview. Probably no one supplying robots to the COVID cause can claim to be as equally magnanimous.

Medical leaders and IT managers from Bangkok’s hospitals got a demo and immediately placed orders; and the government of France called about a partnership ASAP. And it’s still very early on; the first FACO just came on line and will go into hospital duty in mid-April. Near and far, word is getting out that FACO is a special kind of robot. Profit, maybe even gouging, is easily had when people and their countries are desperate. But it seems that’s simply not the FIBO way.

For Laowattana, the cause is what matters most. It’s what guided him in the founding of FIBO in 1995. Twenty-five years on, his benevolence and brilliance have steered his every action, and are now deeply ingrained within FIBO’s culture.

Founder: The Field Robotics Institute (FIBO) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi, Thailand (KMUTT). 25th anniversary: 1995-2020

How FIBO Made FACO

FACO didn’t pop up out of thin air; a service robot named SOFA preceded FACO, which was quickly converted to provide heavy duty service for the pandemic. FIBO has been building robots for over two decades; SOFA was the latest iteration before the hurry-up move to convert it.

Here’s how FIBO describes their latest SOFA iteration: “SOFA is a service robot for telemedicine, with a monitor displaying a treatment record and/or diagnosis results directly from the hospital’s information system; physicians can remotely command SOFA from a centralized control center to travel to designated areas.

“SOFA is also equipped with a thermal camera to monitor a patient’s temperature, and a high definition magnifying camera which can zoom into patients as needed up to 20 times original size, allowing physicians to not only remotely check a patient’s general physical condition but to also utilize 20x magnifications for ultra-closeup exams.

“In addition, SOFA has a videoconferencing system to enable both patients and physicians to make video calls to each other in real time.”

With the threat of COVID-19 imminent, SOFA was service ready enough to enlist into the Great Virus War. The Field Robotics Institute then renamed SOFA as FIBO Against COVID (FACO).

Read the full story on Asian Robotics Review

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